The Treachery and Ambivalence of Loyalty
John J. McDermott opens his introduction to Josiah Royce’s The Philosophy of Loyalty with the question “Is there a more treacherous and ambivalent virtue than that of loyalty?”1 The question is rhetorical, however, for it is at once a confrontation and a declaration. There is, for McDermott, no more treacherous and ambivalent virtue than that of loyalty. Whether or not we find ourselves in agreement with McDermott, undoubtedly our tendency is to bristle at the suggestion of treachery and to be unnerved by the presence of ambivalence. Thus, we hardly need further provocation to consider the eight lectures of Royce’s that follow McDermott’s introduction, centered as they are on this apparently beleaguered virtue—a virtue that we tend to value if not, indeed, to cherish.
Should we wish to assess McDermott’s description of loyalty, however, we must ask ourselves at least two questions: Is loyalty, in fact, a virtue? Is loyalty, in fact, treacherous and ambivalent? Let us assume for the moment that loyalty is a virtue. In order to establish the treachery and ambivalence of loyalty, let us raise with McDermott another question